In recent years, we have heard repeatedly from employers and their representatives that today’s university graduates are not “employment ready” and lack the soft skills and attitude required to be useful in the workplace. Universities up and down the land have responded by ramping up their careers services and introducing new initiatives to teach employability skills.
But are employers being unfair to graduates? Are their complaints anything more than a manifestation of the perennial perception of the middle-aged that the youth of today are lazy and complacent and “don’t know they’re born”?
John Brooks, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, seems to think so. He recently declared that he was “fed up with being told that our students are not employment ready” (reported by Times Higher) and was supported by Toni Pearce, President of the National Union of Students, who challenged the notion that today’s students are any less likely to be punctual, motivated or entrepreneurial than those 25 years ago.
They were disagreeing with John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce, who is convinced that graduates’ lack of soft skills is a serious problem for industry.
There is no shortage of surveys and anecdotal evidence demonstrating that the perception of this deficit is widespread among employers. However, as far as I’m aware (readers – please tell me if I’m wrong), there isn’t any widely accepted measure of employability skills and few studies based on objective criteria rather than perception– which means that we can’t tell whether this widespread perception is accurate or not, and neither could we tell if the situation were to improve.
The mantra that graduates are not ready for employment has become so entrenched as to become a cliché. If that’s all it is – a cliché based on an age-old prejudice about the young – no amount of soft skills coaching and communication exercises will help.